California Spas

By Fannin, Rebecca | Chief Executive (U.S.), April 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

California Spas

Fannin, Rebecca, Chief Executive (U.S.)

Here at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa in Southern California, usually the main attraction is the championship golf course rather than the state-of-the-art spa. But increasingly, CEOs are putting down their golf bags and discovering that massages, body wraps, facials and aromatherapy can tune up the body and improve productivity after the stress of cranky board meetings and frustrating press conferences.

The best spas for chief executives combine golf and tennis with a full menu of spa services and a well-equipped gym for weight lifting and cardio training. They also offer all the tools needed to stay in touch with the office (not that it's always encouraged): high-speed wireless connections and well-staffed business centers and facilities for executive retreats, as well as convenience to major airports.

While resorts in places such as Tucson, Boca Raton and other balmy locations enjoy loyal followings, several properties in spa-rich California are establishing themselves as major draws for CEOs. The list includes La Costa Resort and Spa, the Four Seasons Aviara, the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay and the lesser-known Ojai Valley Inn & Spa.

In the 19th century, the wealthy journeyed to Europe's great spas to "take the waters," but today the spa experience is about total body pampering. Executives who indulge in a facial for the first time find that their cheeks begin to glow; those who opt for a massage often find relief from chronic discomforts such as stiffness in the neck or soreness in the lower back.

Once primarily women, nearly a third of today's visitors to spas are men, estimates the International Spa Institute in Lexington, Ky. "We're seeing a lot more men today who appreciate having a massage, and it is not uncommon for them to come back for a second appointment with us during their stay," says Elzbieta Czaja, a massage therapist at La Costa Resort and Spa near San Diego.

Nestled in the artsy village of Ojai and surrounded by the Topa Topa Mountains, the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa has yet to receive widespread attention. The 220-acre resort is 73 miles north of Los Angeles International Airport (and 45 miles from Santa Barbara) along a winding two-lane road that passes through orchards and fields of row crops. Once a retreat used by the Crown family of Chicago, Steve Crown, a grandson of the industrialist Henry Crown, has overseen its development into a top-notch resort comparable to the trendy Little Nelle's in Aspen, which the family also owns. The Ojai spa was originally developed in 1923 by another Midwesterner, Edward Libbey of Libbey Glass fame, who commissioned golf architect George C. Thomas to design the championship fairways and greens on the resort's rolling hills.

Not part of a big chain, the Ojai spa keeps an intimate feel, like the country estate it once was. The Crowns have recently invested $70 million to renovate the Spanish Colonial-style resort over a two-year period. Updated are the conference center with two ballrooms, the golf shop, the spa and 305 rooms with four-poster beds, fireplaces and terraces, some of them strung with hammocks. The spa now sports 28 treatment areas, including a hideaway zone-a 3,500-square-foot penthouse accessed by a private elevator. It combines four private guest rooms and two living areas, a meditation loft, a sauna and an outdoor whirlpool.

The spa at Ojai has a few treatments designed for men, says Thad Hyland, the managing director. These include the golfers' therapeutic massage, to comfort aching hands, arms, lower back and shoulders; a sense-awakening body wrap of menthol and camphor; and a facial that incorporates a Swedish circulatory massage for the neck and a Shiatsu pressure-point massage for the scalp. The signature treatment at Ojai is called Kuyam, named after the Chumash Indians who first inhabited the valley. It consists of a combination of warm, soothing mud, herb-infused steam, guided meditation, two cleansing showers and a finale that involves sipping herbal tea while wrapped in a warm linen towel and reclining in a lounge chair. …

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